Wednesday, August 2, 2006
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Iris Marion Young, R.I.P.
It would be safe to say that Iris and I disagreed a fair amount on matters of politics and policy. It would also be safe to say that I really did not care. Iris was one of the more decent people I've met in the academy -- indefatigable and interested in everything. Her students -- and there were many of them -- were devoted to her.
She had been suffering from cancer for the past year or so, not that this slowed her down all that much. The way she carried herself was remarkable -- not because Iris was all bulldog determination in the face of her illness and treatment, or any such maudlin sentiment. Rather, she was cheerfully unafraid to tell you exactly how she was feeling, and doing so in a way that filtered the awkwardness out of the conversation.
She was both brave and gentle, and she will be missed.
The press release published by the U of C:posted by: marvvvin on 08.02.06 at 11:29 PM [permalink]
Here's the Sun-Times:
U. of C. professor had passion for social justice
But she also walked the front lines, marching out of academe to picket with striking workers at the Congress Hotel, or visiting employers to check out conditions for immigrant workers.
Her work in feminist and leftist political thought proved her to be "one of the most important political philosophers of the past quarter-century,'' said Cass Sunstein, U. of C. law and political science professor. Her writings have been translated into more than 20 languages.
Ms. Young, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, died Tuesday in her Hyde Park home of cancer. She was 57.
Ms. Young's 1990 book Justice and the Politics of Difference is a staple in classrooms around the world.
In it, she took issue with "the tradition of thinking about justice in which what matters is whether people are getting a fair distribution of goods and resources,'' said a U. of C. colleague, Patchen Markell, associate professor in the Political Science Department.
Ms. Young argued "that there are other kinds of injustice in the world, besides just not getting a fair share of stuff,'' he said.
One other kind of injustice "involves a coerced cultural assimilation,'' Markell said. For example, "that there's a certain way of being an American that you have to live up to'' to get the full benefits of citizenship -- a kind of cultural imperialism.
Recently, her thinking evolved to questions of responsibility.
"How do you think about your responsibility -- as a consumer of Nike apparel -- ... for working conditions in Indonesia,'' for instance, Markell said. "We don't have ideas about responsibility to help us think about that.''
Ms. Young's most recent book was a collection of essays on the female body experience. A shorter version, Throwing Like a Girl, was published in the '80s.
It concerned the "distinctiveness of occupying a female body,'' Markell said.
Ms. Young grew up in the melting pot of Astoria, Queens, in New York.
"There are so many different types of people there and she grew up among them. I'm sure that shaped a lot of her views,'' said her daughter, Morgen Alexander-Young.
Ms. Young's mother was an interpreter for the United Nations who spoke more than a dozen languages, her daughter said, and her father died when she was young.
After graduating from Queens College in 1970, Ms. Young earned master's and doctorate degrees in philosophy from Pennsylvania State University.
There she met another grad student, David Alexander. They married 34 years ago.
As a grass-roots leftist political activist, Ms. Young didn't stop at writing about justice.
She joined Congress Hotel workers picketing in the ongoing strike that started in June 2003. It was remarkable for someone of her status to do such grunt work, said Jamie Daniel, former chair of Chicago Workers' Rights Board, which campaigns for workers' rights.
Ms. Young also visited employers to talk about mistreatment of workers, Daniel said.
As a political scientist, Ms. Young saw the workers' struggles as test cases for whether we are really a democracy, Daniel said.
Ms. Young marched in anti-war rallies and worked to persuade the World Bank to relieve African debt, said her daughter, who recalls her as a fully engaged mother on top of her other roles.
Avid appreciation for life
"I remember her balancing a career where she was growing in stature -- balancing that with being there for me every day after school, doing my homework with me, being there for my dad and cooking amazing meals,'' Alexander-Young said.
Ms. Young -- who loved jazz -- decided about 10 years ago she wanted to play for herself, her daughter said. So she started lessons. It was typical of her avid appreciation for life.
"She just loved the really small details, like how Lake Michigan looked at different times of the day, the different colors,'' her daughter said.
Besides her husband and daughter, survivors include a brother, James Young, and a sister, Jacqueline Young.
A fall memorial service is planned at the University of Chicago.
Sun-Times Staff Reportsposted by: neographite on 08.02.06 at 11:29 PM [permalink]
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